Modern Combat: Sandstorm Review

The Call of Duty-inspired shooter has arrived, and TG is here to report the good, the bad, and the generic.

Updated with iPad impressions after the rating.

It really is amazing how far games have progressed on the app store since it’s launch barely over a year ago. There was a time when people scoffed at the thought of a First-Person Shooter on the iPhone, much less one with any merit. Gameloft has proved itself time and time again as one of the best mobile game developers on the market, so it seems fitting that they step up to the FPS challenge on a fully touch screen device.

Modern Combat: Sandstorm places you in the boots of an injured “Chief” (no relation to Master) returning to war after an injury. The game starts off with a helpful tutorial, and then quickly throws you into what becomes a confusing and fast-paced adventure through the middle east. I’ll get it out right now: this is a dubiously short adventure, with the campaign completed on normal difficulty in about 3 hours. However, playing on hard is quite challenging, and I can’t imagine what frustrations “extreme” will bring to the table.

When I say the higher difficulties are tougher, I don’t mean that the AI is better. There really isn’t much in way of AI at all in Modern Combat. Basically, all the enemies have scripted paths to take when you approach them. An enemy may knock down table for cover (although they’re just as easy to kill), but he will do the exact same thing if you replay that room. During scenes of continuous battle, enemies will keep spawning

Me likey the snipey, even if there's barely any places to use it.

Me likey the snipey, even if there are barely any places to use it.

and taking the same scripted paths over and over again. This is especially present during the classic FPS “mounted turret moments”, where you sit at a turret and mow down oncoming terrorists. Since you know where they are coming from, you can have the gun ready as they emerge. This is the case for every fight, so there are very few surprises in the game, which is extremely linear.

Linear gameplay is not a bad thing at all for FPS games, as we know from titles such as Call of Duty 4 or F.E.A.R. The difference between these games and Modern Combat is the former games actually had enemy AI, so playing the same room provided for a different experience. In Modern Combat, you know the exact same thing is going to happen every time you play through the game, which really discourages replayability.

The story in Modern Combat is bland at best, with a generic terrorist driven plot. There is a descent twist at the end, but the game makes no attempt to suck you in or connect you to your squad-mates at all, so it’s hard to really care. You would think all the voice acting would help to create an immersive experience, but the acting is so bad, and the writing so laughable, it’s hard to get drawn in at during the brief 10 mission experience. Despite this being a shooter with blood, Gameloft dumbed down the dialogue a ton. I’ve never heard the term “knucklehead” used so much in a game. Seriously. Your sarge will call the squad members knuckleheads. There was even one event where one of the soldiers yelled “Hella cool!” Um….

On many missions, you will get tired of hearing the exact same thing over and over and over until you complete your objective. Get used to hearing the same “RPG!” line 100 times. The between-mission briefing from the obligatory disembodied female voice would have been a nice touch, had it not sounded like they grabbed the nearby secretary and said “Here, you don’t know what you’re reading, but go ahead and give it a shot!” It should also be mentioned that the dialogue and storyline feel like they were written by someone who knows very little about the armed forces, but wrote a story based on other war games they’ve played.

Wow… this review sounds pretty damn negative so far. Why don’t we go into some of things that are AWESOME about Modern Combat? The graphics are ridiculously good, as you can see by the screenshots. Gameloft has something to be really proud of in

This game looks amazing.

This game looks amazing.

this 3D engine. The textures are crisp, and look great close up. The gun models and reloading/first-person character animations are awesome. The guns feel good for the most part, with a nice variety at your disposal for most later levels due to handy, unexplained weapons crates lying around. Sometimes the weapons feel extremely under-powered, but that may be due to the game not detecting hits properly all the time.

Another thing that Gameloft nailed is the controls, which uses an extended version of the Terminator: Salvation scheme – which was great. Everything feels accessible and logical. My one complaint (which isn’t exactly with controls), is how slow you move when you are using iron-sight view to closely aim. If you do this, and want to quickly run away, you feel like you’re moving through tar. I can see the reasoning behind steadying the aim, but man it is sloooow. Still the auto-aim helps out a lot, as well as auto-grenade that lets you lob grenades at targets with needing to do much aiming. All of this can be turned off via options for hardcore players. There are also two other control schemes for you to try just in case the first doesn’t work for you.

The sound effects are pretty good, with good use of left and right channels for those playing with headphones. Unfortunately, the music is pretty cheesy for the most part, and feels quite forced. There is music going on during pretty much the entire game, which just doesn’t really fit in certain situations. The music isn’t bad, per se, but it sounds more like it belonged in a Prince of

No FPS is complete without an elevator somewhere.

No FPS is complete without an elevator somewhere.

Persia game than a war FPS.

One of the things I found frustrating throughout playing Modern Combat is the checkpoint system. It doesn’t seem there are very many of them. So playing for 10-15 minutes and then dying would often mean I started all the way back where I started. Even worse, the game does not save your progress mid-mission when you get a call or have to quit to the homes screen! I’m quite surprised that a company like Gameloft forgot to add this feature, but it pretty much means to enjoy the game you need to have your phone in airplane mode to ensure you don’t get a call.

It’s hard to decide if Modern Combat should be judged as a regular console game should, or if it should be judged as a “mobile game.” As in, “Wow, that game was awesome, for an iPhone game.” Taking into account the fact that the iPhone/iPod Touch are now considered to be direct competitors to the DS and PSP, I would say that games should be reviewed with the standards of console games. With this in mind, Modern Combat, while technically impressive “for an iPhone game”, falls below the standard for modern shooting games in it’s gameplay and story-telling elements. The doesn’t mean it’s not fun, but you have to be willing to accept a lot of cheesiness and generic elements for it to be so.

Presentation & Graphics
Most impressive looking game on the iPhone. Period. I don’t know how Gameloft did it, but slow framerates are a thing of the past, and I didn’t even play on a 3GS!

Sound effects are good enough, and work well with headphones. Music doesn’t really fit most of the time. Voice acting is pretty terrible. “Knuckleheads”? I mean, really? Army circa 1950, this isn’t.

Controls are perfect. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of things, and start blasting your way through terrorists. Unfortunately, the story is extremely generic, and the writing does a bad job at explaining what is going on outside of your own little world by yourself, with little motivation from one mission to the next. In fact, 95% of the game is spent by yourself, rather than with your squad, and there is no remorse at all when you hear of a squad member getting killed. It’s essentially an on-rails shooter with freedom of movement. Not much more depth than that.

With the same scripted events and enemies, it’s hard to find a reason to go back and play the game again after the first run-through. The future possibility of online multiplayer is huge, but isn’t available as of this review. I’ll add an update if that eventually is released, as that has the potential to be a ton of fun.

Game Rating


Modern Combat feels like an arcade-styled on-rails shooter, just with freedom of movement. The plot, acting, writing, and enemies behave almost exactly as something you would play for 10 minutes at your local arcade with a light gun. Overall the experience is pretty dry and generic. I’m interested to see if the fantastic graphics engine and controls are enough to gloss over the eyes of other reviewers and players out there into thinking Modern Combat is the best thing to hit the iPhone since copy and paste. This is certainly an easy game to gush about when you first start playing it. Modern Combat is an incredible technical achievement in portable gaming, and Gameloft should be proud of their dev team for that. But next time, lets focus a bit more on story, gameplay, voice acting, immersion, authenticity… well, I think you get it.

Is it worth $6.99? Why not? Considering games for the PSP and DS range from $30-$40, there’s no reason not to cough up $7 for the best FPS on the app store, even with it’s many flaws. This goes double if Gameloft follows through on their talk of adding online multiplayer. That would be awesome.

Modern Combat: Sandstorm – $6.99

iPad addendum: Nigel Wood
Best to steer clear of this version if you have an iPhone. The game does look marginally better, but for some reason suffers from judder. Controls don’t work nearly as well as they do on the smaller screen. If you play it while gripping with two hands and controlling with your thumbs, it’s hard to quickly access weapons and other touch based commands. On the lap it’s more bearable but playing with dual sticks with index fingers feels unnatural.3pt5-stars_sm
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  • jaikben

    the end of iphone gaming is here, even reviewers expect:

    * profesional ( ps3/xbox budget ) voice acting
    * AI which can compete with ps3/xbox360 games

  • jaikben

    the end of iphone gaming is here, even reviewers expect:

    * profesional ( ps3/xbox budget ) voice acting
    * AI which can compete with ps3/xbox360 games
    * Game must be longer then > 15 hours otherwise its a ripp off for 6.99

    well see the iphone/ipod as it is, and compare it with its own libary.

  • BBK357

    I totally agree jaikben. i feel that we should no way compare any handheld to top notch console games that cost $59.99. I do see that the iphone is on its way to compete with the DS and PSP though.

  • Dan

    With all that said, I’m already bored with the game. =(

  • Kumashi

    The Review mostly take out all the points for “knuckleheads and AI”, but once you compare apples with apples… oranges with oranges; MC:S offers fantastic enemies even more interesting to play against than the enemies you would encounter in a Terrorist Hunt on Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (360), even if they are all freaking scripted. Do you know what screwed up Terrorist Hunt on R6: Vegas 2? Random Spawn Points. I don’t think random spawn points is necessarily the best way for the FPS genre, especially with the level design of MC:S (probably designed the way it is for specs limitations and aiming). however, I agree, random spawn points could be very nice, but saying the enemies or AI are bad, just can’t be true. Yes they are mostly (not totally) scripted, but it is how FPS can create better immersive gameplay sequences. For sure it affects somehow the replay value, but (personally) with the years… I prefer that over a dumb AI in a sandbox that doesn’t really look smarter in the end, even with a supposedly well developed AI. I would usually agree with random spawns, but MC:S is also an iPhone game, the player will put his fingers in the screen and too chaotic setups would be bad for “heavy random spawns”. However, there are a few random spawns in MC:S, you probably never noticed it – not a big deal.

    Plus, I can barely agree with Matt Dunn for the AI, because what he meant wasn’t really the AI, but the enemies and all what they can do – that make them smart and different. Rare are the games like MC:S in which you can see enemies positioning themselves in Squad, jumping over things, rolling on the ground (Golden Eye N64 did it, any others?), flipping tables or else to take covers (FEAR 2), talking together before spotting the player, call for support, sleeping on walls, talk to radio, jump from high spots, hunt the player, go in cover, flee, create an ambush, etc. Plus you need also to consider how they are appearing: jumping over walls, rolling out from a room, falling form a hole in the ceiling, etc. All that gives to MC:S a soul that most games, even on console, do not even have [Gears of War, R6, etc.]. The soul of a game isn’t only about the story or the characters…


    When I read the review, I feel more like you just hated “knuckleheads” and forgot about all the other sound elements of the game. Voice-Over is cool, not perfect, but way better than nothing in that game and comparing the quality VS overall possible budget of an iPhone game, I don’t feel that 3/5 for the sounds totally made sense.


    Other than that, the review is great (thumbs up!) and I think you pretty much nailed the weak points of MC:S. I think reviewers actually have trouble to review recent iPhone games, because they do not compare budget, existing games (if there are), price ($6.99 VS $30 and worst) & platforms properly (iphone VS 360 wtf?). It’s oky to say, “OMG that iphone game nearly equalled X 360 games”, but not to say “oh that iphone game isn’t even equal to that 360 game”. Plus, the controls on the iPhone are cucial and should affect the replay value, especially for a FPS game.

    So as I said ^^, thumbs up – I love that review.

    Happy Christmas!

  • Norml

    Review disclosure: Any games reviewed on this page may have been provided to us by the developer for the purposes of this review. Note: the resulting review score is never impeded by this fact, all opinions are that of the TouchGen reviewer and not the developer. This is in keeping with our O.A.T.S oath. Read more about O.A.T.S here

    WAKE UP!!!